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Bible Commentaries
Song of Solomon

Preacher's Complete Homiletical CommentaryPreacher's Homiletical

- Song of Solomon

by Editor - Joseph S. Exell

The Preacher’s Complete Homiletic
Song of Solomon

By the

Author of the Commentaries on Job and the Daniel

New York



THE following work, like its predecessor on Job, was originally intended for the Van Doren Series. According to the design of the undertaking of which it now forms a part, its object is neither critical nor exegetical, but homiletical; the projector’s aim being rather to supplement existing Commentaries, and to afford a practical aid to preachers who are supposed, more or less, to possess them. The work has, therefore, been thrown into such a shape as was thought most likely to meet the requirements of those who, with comparatively little opportunity for study, are called to dispense the Word of Life.

While this, however, was the main object, the Author has at the same time endeavoured to make his book as readable and profitable as possible to the private Christian. He has, therefore, introduced comparatively little in the way of critical elucidation of the text; and, as in the case of his work on Job, has given to such matter a place by itself at the end of the commentary.
The author, as far as he was able, has availed himself of the labours of those who have preceded him in the same field. Their views, however, in regard to the meaning or application of the text, will in general only be found among the appended notes. His own views, which are given rather in the commentary than in the notes, he has endeavoured to form, after giving the text the most careful consideration he was able, independently of what he has found in the numerous commentators consulted. His aim and desire has been, first to ‘receive of the Lord,’ and then to ‘deliver’ to His Church.

Of a book like the Song of Solomon, there will naturally be found a great diversity of interpretation. The exact meaning and application of a passage intended by the royal penman, or by the Holy Spirit who inspired him, it must necessarily be difficult in many cases to determine. This will no doubt be generally obtained in proportion as we may be under the teaching of the same Spirit. ‘For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of a man which is in him? Even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God which is in him’ (1 Corinthians 2:11). To obtain such teaching, however, we require to occupy a very humble place: ‘Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes’ (Matthew 11:25). It is, however, not only in reference to single passages that a great variety of opinions is often found to exist. The same variety is found in reference to the nature and object of the book itself; some, though few, strangely regarding it as merely treating of earthly matters, with only a moral object in regard to the conjugal relation (the profano-erotic or ethical view), while the great body of expositors, both ancient and modern, Jewish and Christian, have regarded it as a Divine allegory, exhibiting spiritual things under the veil of natural ones. Here, however, we again find diversity. First, as to the ground or basis of the allegory; whether it is based upon an actual occurrence—a historical basis; and if so, what? Or whether it is formed upon an ideal transaction conceived by the poet himself under the Spirit’s inspiration. Secondly, as to the spiritual meaning of the allegory; whether experimental in relation to the individual believing soul (the mystico-spiritual sense); or doctrinal, in relation to the Church as a whole (the mystico-doctrinal); or prophetical, whether in relation to the Church (the mystico-prophetical); or to Christ Himself (the typico-Messianic); or historical, in relation to the Church or nation of Israel (the mystico political). To most of these applications of the allegory, few of which, perhaps, are entirely exclusive of the rest, reference will be found in the notes appended to the commentary.

The author’s own view as to the basis of the allegory will be seen, both from the commentary and the introduction, to be rather that of DELITZSCH, ZOCKLER, and others; according to which Solomon is regarded as having, during an excursion into the country, in which he was attended by his nobles, met unexpectedly with Shulamite while engaged in rural pursuits, and struck with her charms, having asked and obtained her hand, brought her to the palace as his bride. The incident, however, he considers to have been probably rather a conception of the inspired poet than an actual fact, or at least possessing but a very slight substratum of reality; a conception bearing a strong resemblance to that of one of our own English poets, who, in one of his Oriental Eclogues, written doubtless without the slightest reference to the Song of Solomon, makes Abbas, a Georgian king, to have done exactly the same with Abra, a shepherdess, what Solomon is supposed, according to this view, to have done with Shulamite. This view the author conceives to be more probable than either the older and more common one, which makes the basis of the poem to be the marriage of Solomon with Pharaoh’s daughter; or the more modern one of EWARD and others, adopted also by Professor GODET, of Neufchatel, which makes Solomon to have carried off by force the object of his passion, and to have taken her to his palace, where he endeavoured in vain to detach her affection from the youthful shepherd to whom she was already betrothed.
That the form is a sacred allegory setting forth, under an external veil, the love, union, and communion existing between Jehovah or Messiah on the one hand, and the Church or people of God on the other, with allusion to points in the history both of the Church and its Head, is the view that, under various modifications, has been generally adopted both by Jews and Christians.

That such a view is the correct one, is rendered the more certain by the fact that similar allegorical or parabolic representations are not uncommon in the Scriptures; and that everywhere, both in the Old and New Testaments, the relation between God, or more properly the Messiah, and His Church or covenant people, is exhibited under the figure of a marriage: the former being frequently styled the Husband or Bridegroom, and the latter the Bride. In the sixteenth chapter of Ezekiel, for example, the Jewish church or nation is represented as having been found by Jehovah as an outcast infant in the open field, rescued and reared, adorned and beautified by Him, and ultimately taken into union with Himself as His Bride. ‘And when I passed by thee, and saw thee polluted in thine own blood, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live; yea, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live. I have caused thee to multiply as the bud of the field, and thou hast increased and waxen great, and thou art come to excellent ornaments: thy breasts are fashioned, and thine hair is grown, whereas thou wast naked and bare. Now, when I passed by thee, and looked upon thee, behold, thy time was the time of love; and I spread my skirt over thee, and covered thy nakedness: yea, I sware unto thee, and entered into a covenant with thee, saith the Lord God, and thou becamest mine’ (Ezekiel 16:6-8).

LANE, in his valuable work on Modern Egypt, observes that, from the character of the Moslem songs sung at the Zikrs, or special religious services composed for the purpose, and intended only to have a spiritual sense, though not understood in that sense by the generality of the people, he cannot have any doubt as to the design of Solomon’s Song. And although Sir William Jones speaks doubtfully in reference to the existence of sacred allegory in ordinary Oriental poetry, Dr. KITTO remarks that the practice of setting forth spiritual subjects under the emblem of love is not confined to Arabian countries, but is found in Persia, India, and among the Rabbinical Hebrews; and gives it as his opinion that the allegorical or spiritual interpretation of the Song of Solomon is not only the right one, but the only possible one; and that, if the poem have any historical basis, the circumstances are so modified as to suit the spiritual purpose of the allegory, but would have been most unsuitable in a real history.

The reader will observe, that like some other expositors, I have divided the Song into parts, and these again into separate scenes. There can be no reasonable doubt that, while the remotest idea of performance is of course entirely out of the question, the poem is scenic or dramatic in its structure; exhibiting, as it does, without formally announcing it, a variety of characters in dialogue, in various situations, and under various circumstances; while, in the general presence of the ‘daughters of Jerusalem,’ a resemblance may even be seen to the chorus of the ancient Greeks. The separating of the parts of the poem, however, and the assigning to the speakers their proper place in the dialogues, while highly important to the right understanding of the passages, is often one of the most difficult tasks of the expositor. The speaker is indeed often, though not always, indicated either by the title given to the party addressed, or by the grammatical form of some of the words, apparent in the original, but not in an English translation.
None who is familiar with the Psalms of David and the writings of the prophets, will wonder at the language of ardent love and longing mutually expressed in the Song by the Bride and Bridegroom, viewed as representing the Lord Jesus Christ and His redeemed people. It may well be asked, why should earthly love be less ardent than that which is Divine and heavenly? and why should perfect excellence, and boundless, unmerited, self-sacrificing love be regarded with less ardour and affection, and be spoken of in colder terms, than that which is unspeakably inferior? Is it too much to say that the ardent language of many a Jacobite song, in reference to a prince who at best afforded but a specimen of fallen and imperfect humanity, might put to the blush many who profess attachment to the Prince of Life?
The Author is aware that, in some quarters, the Divine Book on which he has been engaged lies under a prejudice, as if unsuited for homiletical use. He trusts, however that the attempt, now very imperfectly made, to provide a help in that direction, may not be in vain. If either the preacher of the Gospel should derive benefit in his arduous but blessed and important employment from the commentary now prepared, as the writer is thankful to learn has been the case with that on Job or if the Christian reader should find himself assisted by it in his meditation on that portion of the inspired Word which the author has found so precious to himself, he will feel abundantly rewarded for the labour it has cost him. He prayerfully commends it, with all its imperfections, to the blessing of Him whose aid has been invoked in its preparation, and who has graciously promised in regard to His own Word: ‘IT SHALL NOT RETURN UNTO ME VOID.’



I. Authorship. The poem generally regarded as the work of King Solomon. Perhaps, though not certainly, indicated by the title. See on chap. 1 ver.

1. Reasons in favour of this view:—
1. General consent both of Jewish and Christian writers, ancient and modern.
2. The prevailing circle of images and references to facts and things; indicating the author to have lived in the time of Solomon, and to have been well acquainted with natural history, as Solomon is known to have been (Kiel).

3. The author well acquainted with all parts of the land of Israel, and greatly susceptible of impressions from the beautiful (Delitzsch).

4. Solomon known to have been largely employed in poetical composition (1 Kings 4:32).

5. A relationship with the Book of Proverbs, known to be Solomon’s, indicated by the language (Hengstenberg).

II. Canonicity and Inspiration. All but universally admitted. Formed part of the Jewish canon in the time of the Saviour, and always received as inspired Scripture by the Christian Church. Independent arguments for its inspiration;—The majesty of the style; the sublimity of the matter; its harmony with the rest of Scripture, especially in the leading idea of the bridal relation of the Church to Jehovah or the Messiah; its power, felt in all ages, in moving the affections towards the Divine Saviour.

III. Unity of the Book. The poem generally regarded as a united whole rather than a collection of independent odes. Arguments in favour of its unity:—

1. The title—a “Song,” not Song of Song of Solomon 2:0. The same persons introduced throughout, and in the same character; as—the King, called also Solomon, appearing as the friend and beloved of the virgin; the Virgin herself, called more definitely Shulamite, who appears throughout as the Fair One, the love, sister, and bride of the king; the Daughters of Jerusalem.

3. The same commencements and conclusions of long passages or divisions of the book; as at Song of Solomon 3:6; Song of Solomon 6:10; Song of Solomon 8:5; Song of Solomon 2:6-7; Song of Solomon 3:5; Song of Solomon 8:3; Song of Solomon 4:4. The recurrence of the same ideas, and even of whole sentences, as in Song of Solomon 2:10-13 compared with Song of Solomon 6:11, Song of Solomon 7:12-13; Song of Solomon 3:1-4 with Song of Solomon 5:2-8; Song of Solomon 4:1-3 with Song of Solomon 6:5-7; Song of Solomon 4:5 with Song of Solomon 7:4; Song of Solomon 1:15 with Song of Solomon 4:1.

5. The same language throughout, even to the smallest peculiarities (Hahn).

6. Unity of scene.
7. The plan and tendency of the whole (Exald).

IV. Internal Character of the Composition. An allegory, with a probable foundation in some historical fact or event in Solomon’s life, as the occasion of it; the bridal relation between the Church and Christ being exhibited under the figure of a similar relation between King Solomon and Shulamite, a beautiful and pure-minded rustic maiden. Arguments in favour of the allegorical nature of the poem:—

1. The general belief of both the Jewish and the Christian Church, both in ancient and modern times.
2. The unity and harmony of the Book, on this supposition, with the rest of Scripture.

3. The apparent reference to it in this sense by the writers and speakers of the New Testament, as Matthew 9:15; John 3:29; Romans 7:4; 2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:23-32; Revelation 19:7; Revelation 21:9; Revelation 22:17 compared with Song of Solomon 3:11; Song of Solomon 4:8-11; Song of Solomon 5:1; and Song of Solomon 7:10; Matthew 2:1 with Song of Solomon 3:2, and Song of Solomon 5:6; Matthew 2:11 with Song of Solomon 3:6; Matthew 18:12-13, and Luke 15:4-7 with Song of Solomon 2:2; Song of Solomon 2:8, and Song of Solomon 6:8-9.

4. The undeniable resemblance of the Song to the 45th Psalm, about whose allegorical meaning all are agreed.

5. Apparent indications in the poem itself; for example: “Shulamite” apparently used as a symbolical name (Song of Solomon 8:10), and as the name rather of a plurality in unity than of a single person (Song of Solomon 1:3-4; Song of Solomon 2:9; Song of Solomon 2:15; Song of Solomon 5:1; Song of Solomon 7:13; Song of Solomon 8:8; Song of Solomon 8:12). “Baalhamon” not the name of any known real place, but apparently expressive of the world and its peoples as in a state of unrest and dispeace (Psalms 46:4; Psalms 46:7; Isaiah 57:20).

6. The acknowledged difficulty of giving a satisfactory explanation on the merely natural or historic theory, as indicated by the great want of unity among those who have adopted it.

V. The External Character or Form of the Composition. A dramatic poem, or a poem in the nature of a drama, embracing a variety of scenes and characters; these characters sometimes speaking in dialogue, and sometimes alone; with a subordinate party generally present and often taking part in the dialogue, in some respects corresponding to the Chorus of the ancient drama. The form of the poem thus in some degree resembling that of Job; the difference being that in Job each speaker is formally announced by the poet, which is not the case in the Song, the change and personality of the speakers being left to be inferred by the reader from the speeches themselves—a circumstance often rendering the interpretation more difficult, but greatly contributing to the energy and liveliness of the composition.

VI. The Object of the Book. Various objects probably contemplated by the Divine Author, whatever may have been the design of the human one. The leading object justly regarded as being to exhibit the intimate relation subsisting between the Church, whether viewed as a whole or in each of its true members individually, and its Divine covenant—Head and King, the Messiah, or Son of God in human nature; the relation being that of a Bride and Bridegroom—a relation constantly recognized in the Prophets in especial reference to the Church of the Old Testament (Isaiah 54:5-6; Jeremiah 2:2; Jeremiah 3:14; Jeremiah 31:32; Hosea 2:19-20; Hosea 3:3; Ezekiel 16:32-38); and in the Evangelists and Apostles in reference to the Church of the New (Matthew 9:15; John 3:29; Romans 7:4; 2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:23; Ephesians 5:32; Revelation 19:7-9; Revelation 21:9; Revelation 22:17). As a part of this object, the Book designed to shew the amazing love of God in Christ as implied in that bridal relation; the transcendent excellence of the Divine Bridegroom; the privileges, duties, and responsibilities connected with this relation on the part of the Church as His Bride; the injury sustained by her from a conduct unbecoming it, and, on the other hand, the blessedness and honour connected with a faithful observance of its duties and improvement of its privileges. Practically, the edification of the Church the object of this as of the other parts of Scripture (Romans 15:4; 2 Timothy 3:15-16); the aim of her Divine Head in giving this precious portion of Holy Writ being thereby to elevate, purify, sanctify, comfort, warn, direct, preserve, and stimulate the members of his mystical Body in every age; the Book exhibiting, with this view, a picture of the experience of believers while on earth—their hopes and longings, joys and sorrows, temptations and conflicts, falls and recoveries, love and service.

A coincident object of the book probably to afford a prophetical shadowing forth of the incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension of the Bridegroom, and of the general history of the Church after these events; as well as a dim allegorical picture of its development up to the time of their occurrence.

Possibly also a subordinate object contemplated in the Book in relation to marriage, viewed as an earthly though Divine institution; its duties being here, as in Ephesians 5:23, &c., mirrored forth, on the one hand, in the affection and demeanour of the heavenly Bridegroom to His Church; and, on the other, in the duties belonging to the Church in relation to her Divine Husband.

VII. Divisions and Contents of the Book. The divisions variously made, but very generally considered as five or six, with several subdivisions. The first division may be viewed as extending from chap. Song of Solomon 1:2 to Song of Solomon 2:7; the second, from chap. Song of Solomon 2:8 to Song of Solomon 3:5; the third, from chap. Song of Solomon 3:6 to Song of Solomon 5:1; the fourth from chap. Song of Solomon 5:2 to Song of Solomon 6:9; the fifth, from chap. Song of Solomon 6:10 to the end of the Book. The last possibly divided at chap. Song of Solomon 8:4. The subjects under these divisions, as regards the allegory, may for convenience be distinguished thus:—Part First: The Meeting of the Betrothed. Part Second: The Nuptials. Part Third: The Marriage Feast. Part Fourth: The Coolness and its Consequences. Part Fifth: Married Life and its Incidents. The Book might be said to have three great divisions:—Before the Marriage; The Marriage Itself; and, After the Marriage. The divisions might be further reduced to two: The Period before and the Period after Marriage. Chap. Song of Solomon 3:2 apparently the centre of the poem.

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